Monday, December 31, 2012

Film Tally 2012

Boy, this has been a good year. I got acquainted with a variety of filmmakers and performers, both acclaimed and underrated. And many of the films I saw were amazing too. They are as followed:

A Handful of Awards

Well, this year's almost over, so what better way to (sort of) cap off the year than with a few blog awards? (My movie tally will be up later today.) Anyway, Michael gave me not one but two blog awards. And they couldn't be anymore different.

First up is the Blog of the Year Award. First off, I'm flattered. Secondly, the rules go:
  • Select the blog(s) you think deserve the "Blog of the Year 2012" Award.
  • Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen - there's no minimum or maximum number of blogs required - and "present" them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  • Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the "rules" with them You can now also join our Facebook group – click "like" on this page "Blog of the Year 2012" Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience 
  • As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars.
I'll get to all of that in a sec. I have to mention the other blog award Michael gave me.

Award #2 is The Versatile Blogger Award, one that I'm a bit familiar with. Anyway, rules:
  • Display the award certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and include a link to whoever presented your award.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Create a post linking to them and drop them a comment to tip them off.
  • Post 7 interesting facts about yourself.
Oy, again with the facts. Doesn't everyone know me by now? Okay, less whining, more typing. Um...
  1. I have over a hundred DVDs. (I don't know the exact number.)
  2. I also have way too books. (Again, I don't know the exact number.)
  3. I still don't have my driver's license.
  4. Or a significant other for that matter. (I anticipate that'll change in the following year.)
  5. As of late, I aspire to make a name for myself. (Why else do you think I'm working on that screenplay?)
  6. Speaking of said screenplay, I might be done with it before next month is over. (Keyword is "might".)
  7. When I finish it, I kind of want to see it actually be made into a film.
Okay, boring bit's over. Now onto choosing bloggers. I'm killing two birds with one stone here and combining both award rules. However, I'm not doing 15 bloggers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Cousin Vinny

When you think of courtroom films, you immediately think of films like 12 Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. You usually don't think of a courtroom-set film being a comedy. (Though George Cukor did make one in the form of Adam's Rib.)

Jonathan Lynn made My Cousin Vinny forty-three years after Adam's Rib was released. It's sort of a spiritual successor to Cukor's film but some elements are different. For starters, the characters in Lynn's film aren't as straight-laced as those in Cukor's film. But for now, that's all I'll say on the matter. (Though Adam's Rib and My Cousin Vinny would make for an interesting double feature.)

I think what makes My Cousin Vinny clever is that Lynn knows his subject matter. He actually has a degree in law, therefore he has an accurate depiction of courtroom activity. (He's been praised by lawyers for such a depiction.) Hey, it shows he's doing something right.

The cast is great. Far from his Oscar-winning role, Joe Pesci shows some brains within that wiseguy attitude of Vinny's. Marisa Tomei is definitely Pesci's equal here. (I can't really say if she earned that Oscar or not since I haven't seen all the nominees from that year. She is very good though.) I also have a soft spot for Fred Gwynne here. He's so good at being deadpan.

I can see myself re-watching My Cousin Vinny repeatedly in the near future. The reason? It's that good. You just don't see comedies like this very often (or at all), so be sure to give it a watch. You won't regret it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miserables

Tom Hooper is an interesting director. He first got recognized from the multi-award-winning mini-series John Adams. A few years down the line, The King's Speech is released, which again won many awards. (Though some were annoyed that he won Best Director instead of David Fincher.)

Now his new film Les Miserables may not get the same recognition as those two other projects (with the exception of perhaps a few categories), but it'll certainly be a crowd pleaser, especially to those who saw it on Broadway. (Trust me. The showing I went to was mobbed.) I myself never got to see it on Broadway nor did I read Victor Hugo's novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The one attribute of Les Miserables that's been promoted heavily is that the actors are actually singing on camera rather than lip-syncing the playback. And boy, does it leave an impact. Hugh Jackman completely obliterates his action star image here. Russell Crowe, although not the strongest of the actors, certainly holds his own. Anne Hathaway is definitely the most heartbreaking of them all. Young stars Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne (who has a very impressive set of pipes) and Samantha Barks are also very good. And Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter steal every scene they're in. (Pun intended.)

As with all musicals, there's the matter of choosing a favorite musical number or two. For me, they were Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" (that song alone should earn her an Oscar) and Redmayne's rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". You can just hear their pain as they sing.

Not a lot of people might agree with me, but I loved it. Yes, Hooper's direction is all over the place (his affinity for Dutch angles is evident), but he does succeed in providing a grand tale for mass audiences. Hey, I may be in the minority of thinking this, but this is an excellent film.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 28, 2012


When a scandal emerges, the media often pounces on the unsuspecting parties like what a lion does to its prey. They'll consume as much as they can before leaving the carcass to rot out in the sun. The unfortunate victims never knew what hit them.

Of course the biggest scandals are the ones targeting political figures, especially if the topic in hand (no pun intended) is sex. Let's be honest. Have the political careers of Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer really recovered after their little mishaps? (Well, Clinton has, but Spitzer's still got a long way to go.) But no political scandal will ever top the frenzy that was Watergate.

Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon is set in the few years following Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). British television personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) sees an opportunity to further his career by interviewing the disgraced former President. But will it actually destroy not only his reputation but also Nixon's?

The performances from Langella and Sheen are great. (Smart decision on Howard's part to cast actors who originated their roles on stage.) Langella doesn't resemble Nixon facially or vocally, but he definitely makes up with his performance. Sheen in turn is a great counterpoint to Langella. (How he wasn't equally nominated is beyond me.)

The film itself? Just as great. It's thoroughly compelling in every scene, regardless of what's being shown. I know some people aren't as enamored by this film as I was, but no matter. Everyone's entitled to an opinion.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Full Metal Jacket

War is hell. Everyone knows that. When Hollywood depicts it, they only seem to capture the carnage. It's only once in a blue moon where they explore the madness soldiers endure during battle (and even afterwards).

It seemed inevitable that Stanley Kubrick, who often capture insanity within humanity, would make a war film. He did with Paths of Glory in 1957 and thirty years later, he re-visited the war genre with his penultimate film Full Metal Jacket. The wars depicted are very different (Paths of Glory focused on World War I, Full Metal Jacket Vietnam), but the themes are very similar.

One complaint some people have with Full Metal Jacket is that the two halves bear no resemblance to each other. I think the differing factors is a nice touch. Seeing reality go from the controlled nature of boot camp to the pure chaos of combat is pretty damn staggering.

And knowing Kubrick, he keeps that insanity motif running throughout the film. And boy, does he know how to use it to the fullest. Just pay attention to that first half of the film. The outcome makes what Jack Torrance becomes in The Shining (and what Alex DeLarge is at the start of A Clockwork Orange) pale in comparison.

I'll admit Full Metal Jacket isn't Apocalypse Now but it definitely holds its own in regards to war being hell. (Fairly certain that this and Paths of Glory would be an awesome double feature.) Oh, Kubrick, you mad genius. You've made me love another work of yours.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Running on Empty

The baby boomers had James Dean, the poster boy for teenage angst. Even decades after his untimely death, he still remains the pinnacle of adolescent misunderstanding. (Not bad for a guy with only three films to his name.)

A generation later, teenage angst had a new poster boy: River Phoenix. Like Dean, he portrayed the many troubles one faces as they grow up. (Just look at Stand by Me as an example.) And like Dean, Phoenix's life ended way too soon. (He met his fate by the way of an accidental multi-drug overdose.)

Phoenix's career wasn't for naught. He earned an Oscar nomination for his work in Sidney Lumet's Running on Empty. Interestingly, Phoenix's Danny Pope is similar to Dean's Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause. Both are the new kids in town, both quarrel with their parents (their father in particular) and both want acceptance.

Running on Empty doesn't rely solely on Phoenix's performance. (Although it is one of the main focal points.) The film also focuses on family dynamics (or, more accurately, the lack of them). The Popes aren't as dysfunctional as the Tyrones from Long Day's Journey into Night (another film of Lumet's), but the lack of communication within the Pope family makes them look like the Tyrones.

Running on Empty isn't one of the best Lumet films but it's one of the strongest if strictly for Phoenix's performance. There's also good work from Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch. But again, this show belongs to Phoenix.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Since it's the holiday season, I'm giving Defiant Success a short hiatus. I'll be back on Wednesday but in the meantime, enjoy the time with your family.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

During the opening moments of Bharat Nalluri's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, we get a clear idea that Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) doesn't exactly have the most ideal life. Almost immediately the viewer sympathizes with her. Fortunately she goes down a better route, thanks mainly to Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams).

You really can't go wrong since McDormand and Adams. McDormand captures Pettigrew's quiet nature flawlessly. (Amusingly, Billie Burke was considered for this role when this was a realized project back in the 1930's.) Adams in turn displays Delysia's bubbly attitude is reminiscent of Carole Lombard. Again, they're perfectly cast.

The three supporting actors are also very good in their own ways. Ciaran Hinds is a lovely foil to McDormand. Mark Strong effortlessly displays the snake-like nature of his character. (Then again, he's usually good in that role.) But my favorite (and I'm not just saying this for Margaret) is Lee Pace. Come on, he's charming, he wears nice suits and he speaks with a gorgeous British accent. (Translation: he's too much for me to handle.)

Being familiar with the era the film is set in, I can tell that Nalluri is providing a nice homage to the films from that time in Hollywood. You can sense auras of Lubitsch amid the various locales visited, wisps of Edith Head in Delysia's gowns, and touches of Cukor in the scenes between Pettigrew and Delysia.

Long story short, I was charmed endlessly by this film. I was thoroughly entertained by it. I know I'll be watching it again in the near future simply because it's that good. (Hell, I'm smiling right now just thinking about it.)

My Rating: *****

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Christmas List

With Christmas getting even so closer, Diana came up with a clever little concept. She wants to give her fellow bloggers a gift for the holidays. Granted, I'm not the best when it comes to gifts. (I give either books or clothes. I'm like the boring relative.) I'll try my best though.
  • For Stevee and Nikhat, tickets to go to New York City. They're dying to see the rest of the world, so why not start with the Big Apple?
  • For Andrew, something similar. Tickets to a Broadway (or perhaps West End) show of his choosing. (Maybe the biggest theater geek I know.)
  • For Margaret, either an adorable little sweater for her dog Gustav (even though he'd probably chew it up) or something to fuel her many little obsessions. Perhaps a poster of her beloved Idris? (Preferably this pic blown up.)
  • For Alex and Tyler, a Criterion DVD of their choice. (Knowing them, they'll probably choose a film that very few people have heard of, let alone seen.)
  • And for Adam, something for his admiration of dark films. Maybe a von Trier film or two.
Hey, I said I wasn't good with gifts. I do have a feeling I hit a few right notes, but I can't be too certain.

Friday, December 21, 2012


There's something electrifying when witnessing actors of a high caliber performing. It doesn't matter whether it's on screen or on stage. It's still fascinating to watch them perform.

Take John Patrick Shanley's Doubt as an example. Based on his own play, the film stars Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the finest actors working today. Seeing them verbally duel is simply something that must be seen.

Also among the small roster is Amy Adams, who is ideally cast here. She's the wide-eyed idealist to Streep's bitter enforcer. When a possible scandal breaks out, you can see how troubled she is just by looking at her. It's taking a toll on her.

I must talk about Viola Davis' work here. She only has one scene, and she completely steals it from Oscar winner Streep. (I assume it's not an easy task.) How Davis didn't win for this is anyone's guess.

Some may be put off by the themes, but I absolutely loved the film in its entirety. (And to think it's written by the same man who wrote Moonstruck.) As well as the great work from Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Davis, there is of course the always great cinematography from Roger Deakins. Honestly, go see it if you haven't already.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 20, 2012

About Schmidt

When you've reached your peak years, you're left wondering what's left to do. You've had a steady career, raised a family and a generally good life. So what's missing?

That's what's running through Warren Schmidt's (Jack Nicholson) mind early on in Alexander Payne's About Schmidt. Recently retired (and eventually widowed), he finds his life at a standstill. But with his daughter's wedding approaching, he tries to get some firm ground in his life.

Payne apparently has a tendency to depict men experiencing a personal crisis. (Other examples include Miles Raymond from Sideways and Matt King from The Descendants.) Then again, Payne does have a good reason for why he likes this particular role: "When I'm shooting I don't care who the star is. I have an actor playing a part, and I'm serving the script, not serving anyone's career. My hope is that, after twenty minutes, perhaps the audience forgets it's George Clooney or Jack Nicholson and just sees the character."

Speaking of Nicholson, he's great here. (But he usually is in most of the films he's in.) It's later career roles like that of Warren Schmidt that give me some hope for actors as they reach their twilight years.

All in all, I really liked About Schmidt. I didn't love it as much as Sideways or The Descendants, but I did admire Payne's writing and Nicholson's acting. It's worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nothing But the Truth

There are two sides of the world of journalism that Hollywood likes to depict. There's the investigating side, featuring journalists who are willing to risk their careers (and possibly their lives) to get their story. This one is the more commonly depicted.

But what about the other side of journalism? That side shows the aftermath of the investigating. The story's written and published, so now what happens? Either life carries on as normal or the story causes a whole whirlwind of controversy. Take a stab in the dark as to which one Hollywood prefers.

Rod Lurie's Nothing But the Truth depicts the latter side to the fullest. Think of it as a modern day equivalent of All the President's Men, though the suspense isn't as great here as it is in Alan J. Pakula's film.

Like Lurie's earlier film The Contender, the cast is quite remarkable. The names attached include Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett and David Schwimmer. They're all quite good but this show belongs to Farmiga hands down.

Of course the film has its flaws. Beckinsale makes her role too preachy in scenes. The suspense usually found in films like this is lacking. And the ending, though initially clever, left me feeling underwhelmed. Still, Lurie presented a compelling story, so I can't entirely dislike it.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Certified Copy

There's something magical about two people meeting for the first time. As they spend more time with each other, they may realize that they were meant to be.

Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy depicts such an occurrence beautifully. Not being familiar with Kiarostami, I wasn't aware of what he was capable of. What I got is perhaps one of the best films of the last five years.

I also didn't really know the premise of the film until I started watching it. And it's a very lovely premise. I'll try not to give it away to those who haven't seen it yet. It is something better appreciated with little knowledge.

The stars of Certified Copy are Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, whom seem like odd choices. A French Oscar winner and a British opera singer in an Iranian director's film? Sounds strange, but Binoche and Shimell are actually perfect in their roles.

Certified Copy is one of those films that's practically impossible to get out of your mind once the credits start to roll. It's also one of those films that, in my eyes, proves that cinema is re-inventing itself rather than dying. It also got me intrigued as to what else Kiarostami has made. Hmm, A Taste of Cherry sounds good...

My Rating: *****

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Grey

When one sees the trailer for Joe Carnahan's The Grey, they think it's just another unnecessary action film starring Liam Neeson. The film itself, however, suggests something else. What is The Grey truly about? Read on to find out.

This was released back in January, the month where most new releases die at the box office. Apparently Universal didn't have much faith in its outcome. (Then again, they usually aren't with most of their titles.) If they did, then I can only presume the outcome would have been more positive.

That doesn't mean The Grey was poorly marketed. Of course that trailer is probably one of the most misleading things I've seen this year. So what is it even about? It's a tale of trying to survive in the elements with dashes of horror here and there. You bet your ass it works.

For some reason as of late, Neeson has been doing a number of action movies. (This is the same man who played Oskar Schindler after all.) Surprisingly, The Grey contains one of his best performances. And yes, he kicks ass and takes names.

The Grey is definitely one of the more surprising films I've seen this year. Along with Neeson's performance, there's also some very stunning cinematography from Masanobu Takayanagi. It's also (pun sort of intended) very chilling. See it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jules and Jim

If and should I see a foreign film, there's a strong likelihood that it'll be French. It's mostly because of the French New Wave, but I think it's also because the more prominent foreign directors are French. (But that's just my theory.)

Within the last year or so, I've gotten acquainted with several notable names of French cinema. Godard, Melville, Bresson, Malle...I saw their work. And I must say, they know what they're doing.

Another French director I like and am starting to watch is Francois Truffaut. I loved The 400 Blows and Day for Night, so I was curious as to what else he made. I opted for Jules and Jim, which apparently provided some influence for Martin Scorsese when he made Goodfellas. (The technical aspects, mind you.)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the way the film was shot. It was almost as if Truffaut let Raoul Coutard go crazy with the camera. That's of course not a bad thing, but you can tell that manic camerawork alone provided an influence for future films.

Although not my favorite of the Truffaut works I saw (that's probably Day for Night), Jules and Jim is still an amusing watch. I might appreciate it more on a re-watch, but for now I can only say I liked it. I will also add that Jeanne Moreau is great here.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I have a feeling that when the news broke that Peter Jackson was returning to Middle-Earth, fans of The Lords of the Rings trilogy rejoiced. Nine years after The Return of the King wowed audiences, Jackson brings forth a new vision of J.R.R. Tolkien's famed work. But is it worth seeing?

I myself am relatively new to Jackson's depictions of Tolkien's visions. I only saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy this past summer, so I wasn't blessed with seeing them on the big screen. However, I did fall in love with each one of them, which only made me more excited for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

But was I satisfied with the outcome? You bet I was. More than once as I was watching it, a huge smile crawled across my face. I was so happy returning to the world I first saw this summer. Of course, not everyone shares the same opinion as me. (A few comparisons to The Phantom Menace were brought up, but they weren't too severe.) Some think Jackson put too much (or not enough) in the film. I personally had no problem whatsoever. But everyone's entitled to an opinion.

Either way, I just loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The only problem I had was the fact I have to wait a year for the sequel. (I can't wait that long!) Also, I love how the film's almost three hours long, and it just flies by without any hesitation. Oh, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins? Perfect, perfect casting.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 14, 2012

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

I admire directors who provide homages in their work. It doesn't have to be a huge, flashy reference. Just something that might make the viewer happy.

Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is reminiscent of the comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age. I mean, what other kind of film is there where you can find an odd menagerie of characters under one roof? Only in a screwball comedy.

One thing I realized was that some aspects of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown were also used for the film within a film in Broken Embraces, a later film of Almodovar's. It's just a simple call back like that which makes me admire directors like Almodovar. Any director who can self-reference is one I'm bound to like.

It's interesting to see Almodovar doing straight-up comedy. I'm mainly familiar with his melodramas (though I use that term loosely), so seeing him tackle something much lighter is somewhat of a shock. Still, many of his noted trademarks are present throughout so I was content.

I feel that a film like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown couldn't be made today mainly because it takes talent to be able to balance out the pure chaos within the story. Of course Almodovar knew what he was doing back in 1988 (and still does today), so that's why I enjoyed the film so much. (I'm a sucker for a good film. Is that so much to ask for?)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of Watch

There are two sides of Los Angeles that film and television depicts. There's the Los Angeles where dreams are born and there's the Los Angeles where the dreamers are viciously slaughtered. (They sometimes intersect.)

David Ayer's End of Watch captures the latter reality. During a time in Hollywood where the ugly side of the law is often depicted, this film shows the ugly side of the criminal world. And boy, it's a brutal portrait. (Then again, this is directed by the same man who wrote Training Day.)

End of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, and both are fantastic. Their roles of Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala make them seem like the cocky cops that are usually background characters in most police dramas, but they're clearly competent. And even though they might not act like cops sometimes, they follow the law that they enforce.

It's not surprising that there are a few elements of Training Day within End of Watch. It's fortunate that Taylor and Zavala aren't like Alonzo Harris. (If they were, this would have been a very different film.) They're much more like Jake Hoyt. They witness the many horrendous deeds committed by man but they don't succumb to the many vices of criminal life like the people they arrest. Thank God.

To be honest, that trailer was pretty misleading. I thought it would strictly focus on gun fights like most crime films. What I got was a damn good film. Something's stopping me from calling it great though. (Maybe the shaky cam?) Still, don't ignore this film. It's really good.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Upside of Anger

In the first few minutes of Mike Binder's The Upside of Anger, it becomes quite clear that Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is a very bitter woman. Matters only get worse when her husband runs off. It doesn't help much that she's a drinker too.

Life must be hell for Terry's daughters Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Keri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood). Their mother is proud of them, but her attempts to praise them are futile. (Just watch Terry's reaction to Hadley's post-graduation plans.) Wonder if their lives were like this when they were younger.

It doesn't mean Terry isn't happy with her daughters' successes. It's just she wants the best for them. She can't help but feel angry when she see them with something less than perfect. (Terry's mental response after finding Andy in bed with a man she doesn't trust is priceless.) But then again, aren't most mothers like this?

Terry clearly just needs a man in her life. Enter Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), a former baseball star turned DJ. He's not really a shoulder for Terry to cry on but rather someone for her to vent her anger out on (with the occasional bedroom romp). Isn't love grand?

The Upside of Anger is more cynical than a comedy should be, but it has a certain charm to it. Binder gets great work out of his actors, but this is definitely Allen's show. The strange thing is I'm going to be exactly like Terry several years down the line. Eep.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


There's something interesting about watching an actor in something they did early in their career. Whether it's seeing an aged actor when they were much younger or seeing how their career started, it's worth taking a look.

The main reason for why I watch early works of actors (and occasionally directors) is to see the film that kick-started their career. (That's one of several reasons for why I saw Atonement.) Sometimes you can see an actor starting to hone their craft. Other times you can see them starting to leave their mark in film. Either way, it's something I always enjoy watching.

That was the case with Dan Ireland's Jolene, which starred a young Jessica Chastain. Made long before she did The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter, she plays a woman who leads a very vibrant personal life. Sounds like a cliche, sure, but Chastain provides a fascinating performance.

The thing about Jolene is she tends to leave an impact on the people she meets. Men usually fall in love with her instantly while women (except for one case) view her with contempt. Yet there isn't an element in Jolene that suggests she's promiscuous or a home wrecker. She's honestly just the girl next door.

Jolene isn't perhaps the best thing Chastain has done, but that performance of hers is one that sticks. (Can't say the same about the film though.) This has definitely gotten me more interested into what path Chastain's career goes down. Here's hoping she has staying power.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 10, 2012


Within the first few moments of Milos Forman's Amadeus, we get a clear glimpse into the mind of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). As the film wears on, the audience gets a further idea of how his demented mind works.

What makes Salieri's mind tick? Well, for starters, he has a consuming jealously towards fellow composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). It's not strictly because Mozart has more talent than Salieri. Pay attention to Salieri's face when he first witnesses Mozart's behavior. This is clearly the thought running through his mind at the time: how could a man of immature behavior also possess true ability?

It's not that Mozart doesn't give a damn about his talents. He's more oblivious to the impact his music has on people, especially Salieri. The one person he regrets disappointing is his own father. But even then he keeps it hidden from those around him.

The performances from Abraham and Hulce are both phenomenal and ideal contrast pieces. Abraham flawlessly captures the bitter resentment bubbling within Salieri. Hulce in turn effortlessly depicts Mozart not as the anguished artist but rather as the not-always-serious genius. (A far cry from Animal House, don't you think?) Boy, it must have been a tight race that year for Best Actor. (On a somewhat similar note, what ever happened to both of them?)

Amadeus is truly brilliant. Within the first ten minutes of this, I immediately regretted having not seen this earlier. Just watching this makes it very clear on how it won eight Oscars. If you haven't seen Amadeus yet, do yourself a favor and see it. You won't regret it.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making the Case for The Deep Blue Sea

Stevee has commissioned her many readers to a blogathon. With awards season fast approaching, she thought it would be appropriate to cover the films that the voters will very likely overlook. Originally I didn't want to join in, but Stevee insisted. Considering most of the films I saw from this year are going to be awards worthy, it was somewhat hard to think of a good film to cover. I say somewhat because it didn't take long to think of a good film. Which one, you ask? Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea.

Stevee implicated that she only wanted one aspect of the film covered in our posts. (You know, an actor's performance, cinematography, and so on.) However, there are three things I want to focus on. I'll try to keep each entry short though.

The first is Simon Russell Beale. As William Collyer, he shows a controlled display of emotions in the little screen time he has. Pay attention to his face when he overhears Hester talking to Freddie on the phone. The silent devastation in his features speaks volumes. That look stays with him throughout the film, and it's a haunting look.

The second is Tom Hiddleston. His Freddie Page is very much the opposite of Beale's William. William keeps his emotions reserved whereas Freddie's mood can change in the blink of an eye. One minute he's joking around, the next he's seething with anger. Many people have been introduced to Hiddleston from his villainous role of Loki in Thor and The Avengers, but it's his work here that confirms he'll be around for some time. (Freddie's penultimate scene with Hester is solid testimony of that.)

Last but definitely not least is the reason for why The Deep Blue Sea should not be forgotten this awards season: Rachel Weisz. Her Hester Collyer longs to be happy, but something is stopping her from achieving true happiness. As I said in my review:
There's a perpetual sadness in the face of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) that lingers throughout Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea. It's very evident when she's with her husband William (Simon Russell Beale). Even when she's with her lover Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) she has that look, no matter how happy she appears.
It's probably the most nuanced performance of this year and hopefully one that earns some recognition.

I'm probably in the minority in adoring this film (more so for having actually seen it), but I really hope the critics' circles and other awards organizations don't overlook this film. It is quite fantastic.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Apparently the best way to ensure a definitive lock on the Oscars is to make a film revolving around mental illness. (Trust me, AMPAS loves them.) It seems rather crass that something millions of people have is fodder for awards. (Looking at you, Rain Man.)

Yet David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook doesn't over glorify such a thing. (Thank God.) Instead, the film depicts a menagerie of characters who try to survive the hellish monotony that is life.

I admire any director who can every character as compelling as the last. Russell is one such director. (Other examples include Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.) I haven't read Matthew Quick's novel but I have a feeling that Russell stayed true to it.

Even with the most unlikely of names in the cast, the actors are perfect in their roles. Chris Tucker is quite entertaining in his small role. Jacki Weaver, recently recognized for her Oscar-nominated work in Animal Kingdom, is also quite good. Bless Russell for giving Robert De Niro a long overdue good role. (He needed it. Badly.) The MVPs of Silver Linings Playbook, however, are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It's clear that Lawrence will get award recognition, but I hope Cooper doesn't get overlooked.

In short, Silver Linings Playbook is a great film. Brilliantly acted and wonderfully written, it's very a messed up sort of way. Seriously, go see it while you still can.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Very Long Engagement

There's no worse feeling than losing someone you love. You can move on with your life, but you can never fix the gap they left in your life.

Just imagine what Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement felt when she heard the news of her fiance Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) was killed in action. She knows that he's still alive. She just needs the evidence to prove it.

This was one of the few films that focused on France's involvement in World War I. (The only other one I can think of is Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory.) Both Jeunet and Kubrick's films capture the very ugly side of war. (Their depictions of the trenches alone prove that completely.) Even more interesting to watch considering what Jeunet's previous film was.

The actors were good. Tautou and Ulliel are clearly the highlights of the film, but I want to mention another actor. In a supporting role, there is a pre-fame Marion Cotillard. I admire the way she displayed the femme fatale elements in her performance.

All in all, A Very Long Engagement isn't particularly memorable. Sure, Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is lovely, but it doesn't mask the flimsy story very well. But if you like films about undying love, then this has you covered.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Kings

I honestly wonder how David O. Russell's mind works. Who else could make a movie about existential crises and depict it as a comedy? (Well, other than Woody Allen perhaps.)

Being the kind of person that I am, I got curious as to what else Russell directed. I opted for Three Kings, which most people call his best work. It's clear as to why. Going against the norms for most war films, Three Kings depicts not the ongoing carnage of war but its harrowing aftermath.

It's weird. When I first read the premise of Three Kings, I was expecting something along the lines of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. What I got instead was a film that captures the raw consequences war leaves behind. The film feels even more unsettling in the aftermath of 9/11.

The cast is interesting. A pretty boy TV actor (George Clooney), two rappers (Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube) and a music video director (Spike Jonze) are the main actors. And surprisingly they're all great. My favorite of the quartet is Wahlberg, who pretty much proved here that he's a legit actor. (Well, this, Boogie Nights and We Own the Night.)

Three Kings is surprisingly great. Usually I'm not up for war films (too bloody, you know?), but Russell makes it fascinating to watch. Throw in the appealing performances from the actors, and you've got a film definitely worth watching.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

So many TV shows, so little time...

Oy, and I thought balancing between watching movies, reading books and writing was complicated already. Now I'm trying to catch up on a number of TV shows, a handful of them still being on the air. Here's a small sampling of the shows I watch(or have just started to watch):

  • Sherlock
  • The Hour
  • Luther
  • Elementary
  • Breaking Bad
  • Black Books
Shows I plan to watch in the very near future:
  • Doctor Who
  • Mad Men
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Downton Abbey
  • Spaced
  • Firefly
And shows I'm thinking about watching:
  • The Wire
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • The X-Files
I want to hear from you. What other TV shows should I take a look at?

Monday, December 3, 2012


Exactly one year ago today, I saw a film that completely changed the way I saw films. The film in question? Steve McQueen's Shame. It very much opened my eyes to other films that were just as raw and unflinching. (For some strange reason though, I haven't seen it since that day.)

Anyway, my question to you, dear readers, is this: is there that one film you contribute to the way you watch movies?

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Boy, I managed to get one hell of a response out of this post when I shared it on Twitter late last night. To sum it up nicely, I saw The Heiress on Broadway, and got autographs from its two stars Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens. (My favorite response was from Stevee: "CRYING. CRYING SO MANY ENVIOUS TEARS.")

Anyway, my question to you, fellow readers, is this: are there any celebrities you want to meet?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


There are two types of post-apocalyptic fiction: the "fight for survival" type and the "all hope is lost" type. Sometimes the two types merge but either way, you can bet it'll be as bleak as it can be.

Just look at The Road. Depicting the aftermath of an unknown cataclysm, the story chronicles the flicker of hope among the few survivors. To be honest, not many stories with post-apocalyptic themes tend to focus on that.

Cormac McCarthy's novel is possibly the bleakest piece of literature out there. What makes his writing so unsettling is that McCarthy doesn't go into grand detail when describing things. He leaves everything to the reader's imagination.

John Hillcoat's film manages to keep the spirit of McCarthy's novel intact. Its star Viggo Mortensen is ideally cast here. (I admire actors who display immense subtly.) The even bleaker backdrop makes the complete transition from page to screen.

That said, both the novel and the film are vastly different in regards with presentation. McCarthy's novel is more devoted to the vast bleakness reality has become. Hillcoat's film, which omitted a few scenes from the novel, focuses more on the sentiment between father and son, To me, it's evident as to which of the two is better. (But both are quite good.)

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Separation

Asghar Farhadi's A Separation opens rather tamely. Simin (Leila Hatami) seeks a divorce from husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi), but she isn't granted one. After she moves out, a chain of events happen follow Nader almost to personal ruin.

Of course that description is as vague as I can make it without giving anything else away. I think the less you know about certain films, the more you're bound to like them. (This has been applied to a number of films I've seen as of late.) Anyway, I'm just adding in filler. Let's add something substantial.

Farhadi depicts the domestic situation between Simin and Nader as something reminiscent of a John Cassavetes film. What happens to Nader is worthy of something from Sidney Lumet's work. Safe to say Farhadi was influenced by other directors.

Farhadi's screenplay is fantastic as are the performances from Hatami and Moaadi. It's these aspects that go into a film that should be in full effect in, well, any film. Crap, I'm rambling again. Moving on!

Long story short, A Separation is a brilliant film. This pretty much confirmed that not only should I watch more foreign films, I realized that foreign films are often better than what Hollywood cranks out. Anyway, go see this if you haven't.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The main problem with doing a film about history is that most of the time they end up being history lessons performed by actors. There aren't many films that stay true to the facts and keep their audiences captivated.

Graciously, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln does that very thing. (Thank God too.) He doesn't play the sentiment card like he did with Schindler's List nor does he brutalize the facts as Munich so vividly displays. Lincoln instead plays by the book (well, Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) and follows the rules.

Apparently one of the key aspects of any history-based film is that you need a cast like no other. Among the huge (and I do mean huge) cast for Lincoln, the names include Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, Jackie Earle Haley, Lee Pace, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris and Michael Stuhlbarg. And those are just the supporting actors.

The film unsurprisingly belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis. Like so many of his other performances, the perception of him simply acting vanishes the moment we first see him in action. Suffice to say he'll get some serious recognition when the time comes. (On that note, has any of his performances not been nominated for anything?)

In toll, Lincoln is great. Personally I'm grateful Spielberg didn't make this an overly sentimental film. (If he did, this review wouldn't be as glowing.) It may not be the kind of film for everyone, but I certainly loved it.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Serious Man

It's amazing that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) doesn't go mad at some point in Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man. I mean, with all of the immense stress he undergoes, it's almost impossible not to completely snap under pressure.

What are some of the things Larry goes through? Let's see...his wife wants a divorce, his brother won't leave (or do anything productive), his kids are driving him crazy, and a student is blackmailing him. (Believe me, I'm trying to make it sound less hectic than it actually is.)

The Coens based A Serious Man partly on their upbringing. (It makes me wonder what the hell happened in their early life that inspired their films.) It shows that suburbia in the 1960s wasn't ideal as most films from that very era depicted. Ah, hell in the form of reality. Gotta love it.

I also have to talk about Roger Deakins' cinematography. (Again, how has he not won an Oscar or three by now?) He captures the harshness of home life pretty much effortlessly. (Then again, he did shoot Revolutionary Road as well.)

A Serious Man is quite good though I can't bring myself to say that I loved it. It's not exactly my favorite film of the Coens either. (That goes to O Brother, Where Art Thou?) Still, I can understand why many liked it so much. (Personally, it's just another film off my list.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life of Pi

This is something that happens every year. (Don't deny what I'm about to say.) Every time the awards season rolls around, everyone starts to saying, "Oh, this is the best year for movies." It happened last year, it's happening this year, and I bet it'll happen next year too. (I'm not complaining. It's just something I've noticed.)

One of this year's films that makes that claim ring true is Ang Lee's Life of Pi. It's films like this that keep my faith for cinema's future intact. (Though to be honest a number of films from both last year and this year have managed to keep my hopes up.)

I haven't read Yann Martel's novel but Lee tells the story beautifully. (Anyone who saw Brokeback Mountain knows that he can effortlessly depict a story from page to screen.) It's a fantastically woven story, that goes without saying.

There's apparently a trend in Hollywood as of late where most films are getting the 3D treatment. The thought of a film like Life of Pi getting it seems like the most idiotic idea ever. Personally, the 3D makes the story come alive even more. Much like Hugo last year, Claudio Miranda's cinematography sings with the addition of 3D. Suffice to say if you're going to see this, 3D's a must. (And on a different note, Mychael Danna's score is equally gorgeous.)

Anyway, Life of Pi is without a doubt the most gorgeous film of this year. This is the kind of film you need to see on the big screen otherwise the magic would feel...lacking. But don't just take my word for it. See it for yourself. (Which, of course, you should.)

My Rating: *****

Monday, November 26, 2012

In the Realm of the Senses

If there's one thing in that's always bound to stir up a little controversy, it has to be sex. (Remember Shame last year?) I still don't get why sex in films gets more of an uproar than glorified violence. Before I get carried away, onto the review.

If I had to choose the film that's tied with sex and controversy, it has to be Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses. What else do you expect from a film that was either cut or banned in every country? (It still gets the same treatment it originally got back in 1976.)

Amusingly, it isn't strictly about its very graphic sex scenes and explicit nudity. It also depicts the possessiveness that can come with a relationship. (The possessiveness shown here is much like the kind Adrian Lyne depicted in Fatal Attraction eleven years later.) No one said all relationships would end happily ever after.

However, there's no denying the pornographic nature of the film. (What else can you say after witnessing the leading lady giving the leading man an actual blow job?) It's understandable why it caused so much commotion back in 1976, more so why it still does thirty-six years later.

Anyway, In the Realm of the Senses is an...unique sort of film. Surprisingly, there's some depth to it amid all of the lurid sex scenes. I say some because when it comes to the non-sex scenes, it pales in comparison to Last Tango in Paris and Shame. It's a film you should watch if you dare.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 25, 2012

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

From my personal experience, foreign films are usually more complex than their Hollywood equivalents. (I'm not bashing Hollywood, mind you.) I think it's because foreign film industries have less restrictions than Hollywood. But maybe that's just me.

A recent example of a bold foreign film is Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Depicting Romania during the dying days of communism, the film depicts a time of desperation for anyone in certain circumstances. (Though, to be honest, even people today find themselves in desperate measures.)

It's hard to say who goes through a bigger ordeal throughout 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: Gabita (Laura Visiliu), who wants an abortion, or Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), her roommate who organizes everything to make it happen. I'm going with Otilia because she has to get everything without raising any suspicion. (Why Gabita couldn't handle the job is beyond me.)

Mungiu does an interesting job with the whole development of the story. It is at first appearing as a film that's cold and unattached but as it wears on, it becomes more emotionally involved with its characters. That's something I want to see more out of Hollywood.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a brilliant film, that goes without saying. The use of static camera and muted tones adds to the bleakness of the film. If you haven't seen it yet, you honestly should.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wild Strawberries

Death isn't something anyone looks forward to. All one can do is accept what will eventually happen to them. But then you wonder...did I live a good life?

That's the question on Isak Borg's (Victor Sjostrom) mind throughout Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. On the day he is to receive his doctorate, he suffers a sort of existential crisis. He examines moments in his life, wondering if he did anything wrong when he was younger.

Bergman apparently knew the human mind and how it works (just look at Persona), as well as the meaning of life an death (The Seventh Seal), family conflict (Autumn Sonata), and judgment and morals (The Virgin Spring). Wild Strawberries has all of those themes and boy, are they on full display beautifully.

It seems fitting that Wild Strawberries was Sjostrom's final film. After all, a film about a man examining his life is practically a perfect swan song for either an actor or a director. (An ideal metaphor for their career? It would seem so.) He definitely gives one of the most essential performances in the history of cinema.

Wild Strawberries is the kind of film that only the most astute of directors will make. Bergman is obviously one such director. Is Wild Strawberries his best film? Well, it's one of them, that's for sure. (My vote goes to either Persona or The Virgin Spring.)

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 23, 2012

Got any suggestions?

I'm trying to improve the blog a bit so it doesn't seem too monotonous every day. But I want to know what you have to say. What can I do to make Defiant Success better?

I honestly want to know.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The 7x7 Link Award

Hey, guess what I got tagged with for the third time this year? (Guess that shows I'm popular or something.) Anyway, Meredith gave me this award and since today's Thanksgiving, might as well give my thanks for it. Let's see if anything has changed since the last time I got this.

Tell everyone something that no one else knows about.
Haven't I said enough about myself? Jeez. Uh...I have a really restless mind. It's always buzzing about with ideas. It gives me a headache to be honest.

Link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories:
  • Most Beautiful Piece
  • Most Helpful Piece
  • Most Popular Piece
  • Most Controversial Piece
  • Most Surprisingly Successful Piece
  • Most Underrated Piece
  • Most Pride-Worthy Piece
Let's get this over with.

Most Beautiful Piece Not one about physical beauty this time though it is about an aspect of actors I like.

Most Helpful Piece Still going with the BOOK VS. MOVIE posts. (Don't expect me to change my answer.)

Most Popular Piece Combining my last two answers, and saying my lists of my 100 favorite things about movies and 100 film facts about me.

Most Controversial Piece Being lazy again, going with a previous answer.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece Probably the one where I announced I'm writing a screenplay. (It's nearing completion too!)

Most Underrated Piece I'm actually a little upset that my comparison of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now didn't get that much recognition. I thought it was pretty good.

Most Pride-Worthy Piece Still going with my classic re-casting of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Pass this award onto seven other bloggers.
Now go away. I have family to be with. (Oh, and happy Thanksgiving to my fellow American bloggers.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Lovers

It's made clear early on in Louis Malle's The Lovers that Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) has a busy personal life. Not only is she married with a child, she also has a lover. However, it's also made clear she has grown bored with them. They simply don't thrill her anymore.

It's hard to say if she's actually bored with them or that the initial spark has long fizzled out. (Malle doesn't specify at any point.) All that's confirmed is that Jeanne wants some excitement in her dull life.

Enter Bernard Dubois-Lambert (Jean-Marc Bory), a man who helps Jeanne one fateful day. Their initial meeting is mutual at best. But time wears on (just mere hours), and possible feelings develop.

This is where it gets interesting. Malle doesn't condemn Jeanne for her promiscuous behavior nor does he glorify it. He merely depicts her as a woman who wants attention from a man, physically or emotionally. And Moreau makes her come to life. Think of Jeanne as a femme fatale minus the lethal nature amid her seductive attitude.

It slows down during the second act, but The Lovers is an interesting film. The controversy it received back in 1958 seems tame now but you can clearly see how it got critics in an uproar. It may not be my favorite Malle film (that goes to Atlantic City), but it did convince me to see more of his work.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Igby Goes Down

Within the opening moments of Burr Steers' Igby Goes Down, we get a glimpse into the very dysfunctional life of Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin). Think of the world he lives in as a more eccentric Wes Anderson film.

Igby is from a family of wealth, but he could care less. He cares even less about his family itself. His father Jason (Bill Pullman) suffered a mental breakdown and is now locked away in a mental institution. His mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon) drinks and pop pills like nobody's business. His brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) invades his personal life at terrible times. (Be honest. Even your family isn't this messed up.)

The story Igby goes through is worthy of what Holden Caulfield goes through in The Catcher in the Rye. (I wouldn't be surprised if Steers used J.D. Salinger's novel as an influence.) He gets kicked out of school, he doesn't get along with his parents and he takes refuge in New York City. One could say Igby and Holden are blood brothers.

The actors are very good. Sarandon and Phillippe display the unwanted pretentiousness in Igby's life. Amanda Peet and Claire Danes play the other women in Igby's story, and both deliver. (There's also a very amusing small performance from a pre-Mad Men Jared Harris.) But this is Culkin's film. Culkin, who was also one of my favorite things about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, depicts a complete nonchalant attitude towards, well, everything.

Igby Goes Down is good though I wouldn't highly recommend it. I say that because it's spotty in parts. It's still pretty good for a directing debut. Maybe I'm being sympathetic because I'm like Igby most of the time. Who cares? Just watch it for yourself.

My Rating: ****

Monday, November 19, 2012

I've Loved You So Long

Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), the protagonist of Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long, is a woman of few words. She merely listens as those around her, especially her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), talk on and on and on. It's not that she doesn't want to speak. It's just she has nothing to say.

In fact, when most people first meet Juliette, there are a number of varying opinions on her. They find her mysterious because of her quiet nature. They also find her mysterious because Lea had never mention her before.

Those that find out why Lea never mentioned Juliette before then realize why. They then view Juliette as someone who can't be trusted. Hey, what would your reaction be after meeting a woman who just got out of prison for killing her own son?

Claudel ensures to get the best out of Thomas and Zylberstein. Thomas keeps the mystery of Juliette on full display throughout the film. As Lea, Zylberstein tries to revive the bond between her and Juliette, which wasn't very strong to begin with. (Think of their relationship as the French equivalent to Autumn Sonata.)

I've Loved You So Long is a very fascinating film. Thomas, who definitely should have been nominated for her work here, gives an amazing performance of someone who tries to cope with their past actions and uncertain future. It's truly one that must be seen to be believed, both Thomas' performance and the film.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, November 18, 2012


In 1962, Blake Edwards made a film called Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It was a departure for Edwards and Lemmon since both were mainly recognized for comedy. It was also one of the first films to depict alcoholism in an ugly light.

Fast forward fifty years later to 2012. The stars and director of Days of Wine and Roses have passed on, but the impact the film left sure hasn't. In fact, many elements in James Ponsoldt's Smashed can be reminiscent of Edwards' film. After all, both films depict a marriage united by alcohol.

Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a pretty good life, much like Lemmon's Joe Clay. Steady job, happily married...all is right in the world. Her only problem is her drinking, which she's been doing for as long as she can remember. Then everything starts to fall apart in her life, making her reconsider her ways.

Winstead provides an interesting portrait of an alcoholic. She is capable of maintaining a steady life when sober. That goes out the window when she's been drinking. (One drunken meltdown in particular proves that.) And the supporting cast of Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Octavia Spencer is also great, but this film belongs to Winstead.

The main complaint I have with Smashed is that the tone doesn't match the theme. To me, a film revolving around an alcoholic should be a little dark. But the story and the acting are great, so I suppose I could let it pass. Personally, I hope Winstead gets some recognition out of this.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Movie Alphabet

Mettel has a new blogathon that's been floating around the internet for a while. I figured, what the hell. I'll join in too. But my list will look lackluster (say that three time fast) because I don't have the skill and/or ability to make good graphics like every other blogger doing this. Aw, screw it. I've got good choices. (However, I'm skipping over X because I don't have a good entry for it.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We Own the Night

There are actors that usually deliver their best work when in the hands of a certain director. Would the career of Robert De Niro (or Leonardo DiCaprio) gone anywhere had he not worked with Martin Scorsese? Jack Lemmon without Billy Wilder? Marlon Brando without Elia Kazan? (The answer to all of them: probably not.)

A recent, more understated collaboration is James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix. Gray is still trying to make a name for himself while Phoenix has been a noted actor for years. I first noted their work together in the form of Two Lovers, Gray's most recent film. It was the quiet but deep performance from Phoenix that made the film get ranked as a personal favorite of mine. But it wasn't until much later that I realized I should see another film of theirs.

I opted for their 2007 collaboration We Own the Night, which several bloggers I know call one of the best films of that year. It's clear as to why. This is the kind of film that Scorsese or even Coppola would have made back in the 70s because man, you can feel elements of Mean Streets and The Godfather in certain scenes.

The film isn't just about Phoenix. The cast also includes Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes and Robert Duvall, all of whom are great in their roles. It's a great cast but this is Phoenix's show. This is more proof that he's one of the finest actors working today.

We Own the Night is a really great film. You can tell Gray is providing a nice homage to the crime films of the 70s just from watching this. Every element works in every scene, nothing feeling out of place at any point. Here's hoping Gray gets the recognition he deserves because damn. He really knows what he's doing.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bringing Out the Dead

The 1990s featured some very underappreciated works from martin Scorsese. (The main film of the 1990s Scorsese titles was Goodfellas.) Casino is one of the reputed great gangster films. The Age of Innocence is a gorgeous period piece.

But what about his 199 film Bringing Out the Dead? Well, it's another prime example. Depicting New York City's seedy underbelly, the film chronicles the slow but maddening descent of one man ensnared in the insanity of society. (And I'm putting it gently.)

The film stars Nicolas Cage and for some reason, I kept thinking about his work in Leaving Las Vegas. It makes sense if you've seen both films. His roles in Bringing Out the Dead and Leaving Las Vegas has him on a self-destructive path within the span of several days, each day resulting in him getting weaker mentally. It's a hell of a performance out of Cage too.

It's also no surprise that there are parallels between this and Taxi Driver. (Then again, it helps that both films are directed by Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader.) The protagonists in both films drift through New York City and see it as hell on earth. As Travis says in Taxi Driver, "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."

Bringing Out the Dead is probably the rawest of Scorsese's films, perhaps too raw to some. He's not afraid to tread into risky territory. (He did make Taxi Driver after all.) The main thing that matters to him is to tell a tale of the immoral nature within humanity and how it can sometimes destroy us.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Zorba the Greek

When Basil (Alan Bates) first meets Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn) early on in Michalis Cacoyannis' Zorba the Greek, it's made very clear they're from different ends of the spectrum. Basil is a reserved British writer while Zorba is a Greek who goes by his own rules. Yet somehow they become friends.

Basil is amazed by Zorba's zest for life. Zorba feels the same towards Basil's lack of it. When they head to Crete, Basil embraces the lifestyle of Zorba's people while Zorba embraces Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova), the owner of the town hotel.

Zorba the Greek is strictly about Basil or Zorba. The film also revolves around the small community they're in. The people that are a part of the community have their own rules and morals. Cross those rules and morals, and feel their wrath.

The actors are very good. Kedrova possesses a quiet longing with her Madame Hortense. Bates in turn quietly observes the many happenings around him. (There is also a very lovely scene between him and Irene Papas.) But this is Quinn's show. After all, this is an actor who often stole the spotlight from his co-stars. (I am intrigued that they got a Mexican actor to play a Greek.)

Zorba the Greek is a very charming film. Thanks to Quinn and Bates' performances, the film just resonates its dark yet touching themes. Walter Lassallly's cinematography gorgeously captures the Greek countryside. And that final scene provides solid testament as to why I love film.

My Rating: *****

Monday, November 12, 2012


What would it be like to live in a world where freedom of expression is no longer free? What if the very things that made us who we are became illegal? It's a horrifying prospect, especially with the censorship laws throughout the world.

Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium explores the possibility of such a world existing. All forms of expression -- literature, music, art -- are banned and those found with them will be executed. In order to stay unaffected, everyone is administered a drug which suppresses all emotion.

Wimmer's vision is almost like what Ray Bradbury did with Fahrenheit 451. Something that's in our life every day is suddenly forbidden, a simple object that is deemed dangerous for our mental health. Sure, it's understandable how a few books or a couple paintings could get some controversy, but becoming qualified to be destroyed? Practically horrifying, especially coming from someone who appreciates the arts.

However, the main flaw of Wimmer's vision is his apparent need to include violence into the story. I suppose it's mainly because everyone's a living, breathing sociopath under the drug, so the need to kill someone is inevitable. Seems like a strange response to the drug though.

Equilibrium provides an interesting concept but it gets bogged down thanks mainly to the violence aspect. Maybe if that was removed, this would be ranked alongside THX 1138 and Blade Runner. Instead, it falls face first into guilty pleasure territory. And that's where it intends to stay too.

My Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pandora's Box

G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box provides a portrait of a woman whose life is layered with good luck and hard times. She's fully aware of the distinction between the two, but they blend from time to time so she can't be too sure.

The woman in question is Lulu, a role immortalized by Louise Brooks. She plays Lulu as someone who is fully aware of her sexual prowess and its impact on men. It's just she finds out about it too late most of the time. Brooks makes this role her own. (And to think there was an uproar over her casting.)

The interesting thing is that Pabst doesn't depict Lulu as either a man-eater or a martyr. He depicts her as an innocent girl who acts naughty at times. What happens to her in the end could be up for debate. Was what happened to Lulu unjust or deserved?

There have been a number of films focusing on the tumultuous sexual lifestyles some people lead (only a small handful daring to delve into sex addiction) since the release of Pandora's Box. But it was Pabst's film that started them all. Bear in mind this was a film from the late 20s and it was quite ahead of its time. (One of the supporting characters is a lesbian.) And it still resonates to this day.

Pandora's Box is a truly fascinating film to watch. It's a stunning portrait of the dangers within human nature and the consequences that follow. Honestly one of the boldest films from the early years of cinema.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, November 10, 2012


When you look at the small but extensive filmography of Sam Mendes, you can tell he's interested in stories about the everyman and the life they lead. Suffice to say his newest film Skyfall feels out place when in the likes of American Beauty or Revolutionary Road. That doesn't mean it's a bad film. Oh no, not at all.

Even though the James Bond franchise has now been around for fifty years, I'll admit I'm not well versed in the world of 007. (The only other Bond film I saw was Casino Royale.) That said, I still managed to get the few throwbacks to previous entries that were in Skyfall.

The cast is great. (Then again, with names like these, what else would you expect?) Daniel Craig is essentially perfect as James Bond. (Boo to those that say he isn't.) Judi Dench is also perfect as M. Javier Bardem is equally ideal for the role of villain Raoul Silva, displaying a nice balance of creepy and straight-up unhinged. Supporting actors Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Albert Finney are also great. Wonder what the cast for the next one will be like?

The many other aspects of Skyfall are also to die for. Adele's theme song is (pun slightly intended) pitch perfect. Same can be said for Thomas Newman's score. But I must talk about Roger Deakins' cinematography. The pure gorgeousness of it makes the film come alive. I would be ecstatic if Deakins got nominated, more so if he finally won.

I must say, this year has been pretty great for actions films. First The Avengers, then The Dark Knight Rises, now Skyfall. Mendes seems like an odd choice at first but when you see the final result, you realize he was perfect for the job. But if you had seen his unjustly underrated Road to Perdition (which co-starred Craig), then you know Mendes could depict action and violence without overdoing it. In short, Skyfall is awesome.

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 9, 2012


When we first see the title character of Luc Besson's Nikita (or La Femme Nikita as it's commonly called), she is clearly zoned out, oblivious to the mayhem going on around her. As the film progresses, she becomes more focused and driven.

Nikita is played by Anne Parillaud. She provides the appropriate amount of sex appeal and cunning behavior needed for the role. That said, there isn't much else for Parillaud to do. The role mainly consists of her being in either a skimpy outfit or her underwear. (Well, later on in the film anyways.)

Besson is one of those directors who's accused of preferring style over substance. With Nikita being the first film of his I saw, I can't really confirm it. I will say I definitely felt it from Nikita. (Probably not a good note to start on.)

Speaking of the film's style, it is pretty nice. Thierry Arbogast's cinematography and Eric Serra's score make the most out of the film. Though to be honest, those are the main highlights of Nikita.

All in all, the film's all right. There are a few sequences that are good, but that's about it. It's definitely clear that it was made in "the MTV era". (Just saying.) I just hope The Professional won't be like this.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Band Wagon

Anyone who has seen enough musicals from Hollywood's Golden Age knows you have two song-and-dance men to choose from: Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Both were very different; Astaire provided elegance with his dancing whereas Kelly was more aggressive. Kelly himself said it best: "If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I'm the Marlon Brando."

Even though the dancing styles are different, amusingly their careers were somewhat similar. Both started out in show business with their siblings. Years later, both displayed their abilities as legit actors around the same time. (For Astaire, it was 1959's On the Beach; for Kelly it was Inherit the Wind the following year.)

Also within a year, both had the leading role in a prominent MGM musical. Kelly of course had Singin' in the Rain whereas Astaire had Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon. Both films were written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and their roles were that of movies stars whose careers are in trouble. (Ironic on Astaire's part since The Band Wagon was made when his career was at a standstill.)

Of course both musicals have their differences. Singin' in the Rain was more bouncier in comparison to The Band Wagon. Astaire's musical was more of a musical revue than a straight-up musical. Also, Singin' in the Rain has more charm than The Band Wagon.

The Band Wagon itself is mainly all right. Some of the musical numbers feel out of place. (It makes sense when you realize only three songs from the original stage production made it into the movie.) But of the musical numbers, my favorites were "Dancing in the Dark" and "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan". Also, it made me realize that I have to see one of Astaire's movies with Ginger Rogers soon. (Can't believe I haven't yet.)

My Rating: ****